Climbing the grand steps of self-labelling, there are many levels to nudge oneself through (one is both a person leading the horse on a piece of rope, and the horse being urged to proceed through each narrow gate) before one can truly feel comfortable calling oneself ‘a writer’. There is the ‘I’m not really a writer unless I have published my fourth novel and won another prize‘ brigade, and on the other side of the scale there is the horse-before-cart, self-actualising, The Secret-loving, manifestation-willing, glory-expecting camp of those who enthusiastically consider ‘being a writer’ merely to mean ‘sometimes I think about stuff and definitely will write some of it down one day; it’s gonna be good.’ Somewhere in between, there is this trusty landmark: you can’t call yourself any kind of writer until at least one person has asked you where you get your ideas from.
When some people shower in the morning, I imagine they think about the way the water feels, how they need to replace the shampoo soon, or what they’ll have for breakfast. On one level, I’m doing all this too (luxuriating in bergamot and orange homemade body scrubs, etc.; though I definitely have already had breakfast; I wake up starving each morning and have to eat immediately) but on another level, while the water runs over my body, I’m merrily and involuntarily living several other lives in my head like an absolute weirdo.
For example, for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than that I happened to glance at my left foot this morning, a square centimetre or two of which is slightly raised from the most recent inky whim, the thought flashed through me how lucky it was that I hadn’t booked a reflexology session or foot massage of any kind, since I don’t think they’d be willing to work on me currently (foot laws, etc…).
…Seriously, what?!?! This really isn’t a pressing concern; I almost never book foot massages (despite the fact that this is a huge requisite of any future boyfriend; that he will give them freely; they are both mandatory and abundant in my future relationship fantasy) unless I’m in a part of the world in which they are wonderfully cheap, in which case I immediately indulge and quickly become an addict. Anyway, undeterred by the distraction of reality, my subconscious mind pirouetted on, regaling me with actualities from a parallel universe: there was a hen group, which I was now part of (twelve of us; we were loud!), in a salon, all having pre-booked foot massages at a grand spa. Discreetly (because I didn’t want the bride to notice and feel uncomfortable), I went over to speak to the receptionist in private, hushed tones, to negotiate some other treatment I may be able to have that day instead, since clearly, they weren’t going to work on my foot (I briefly revealed the new artwork). Nodding, she went off to ask her manager if I could defer my foot massage to a later date.
But by the time the receptionist came back with the answer, and while I washed exfoliating apricot kernels off my face, I had become her. With the neat, well-kept fingernails of a beauty therapist, the interesting, chemically-clean, not-overbearing fragrance, and the clear, customer-service tones to match, I told myself (though, actually, the customer unable to have a foot massage that day was now someone else entirely; a stranger I had to deal with in the course of my job) that we wouldn’t be able to fulfil the booking on another day since this had been booked as a group package deal; she’d have to get it done today, but could choose a different treatment as long as it didn’t go over the 30 minutes. She/I (we?) said this kindly, in that near-irritating professional, vapid voice that was uninterested in discussion while eager to please. I gave the tattoo addict the treatment menu, and guided her through options; nails, face masks, head massages (and briefly I was the customer again; I would DEFINITELY go for the head massage. Yes! [Pre-requisite number 2 of future boyfriend, by the way; head massages – don’t worry, I am always reciprocal]).
Anyway, as you can imagine, my double reality went on, peopled by peripheral visions of the rest of the hen group, the bride, and all her emotions…; I applied conditioner; then the phone rang. I considered for approximately 0.0001 seconds the notion of getting out of the shower to answer it, but am not (I don’t quite think) insane, so immediately chose my own daydreams over some spam call offering me PPI nonsense.
Besides, there was plenty more to be done inside that shower.
As soon as the phone had rung and I’d decided to ignore it, it occurred to me that it could be important. A story bloomed without my control or censorship… My Mum had had a car accident. Only a minor one, but her arm was a bit bad (my Mum is quite stoic), and she had been taken to hospital. I rushed there, of course (still in the shower), and on the way thought I should have checked if she needed anything. She would have quite liked her cardigan, she told me as we sat in a row of seats along the corridor (the waiting room was full; and here we were slightly closer to the doctor’s room). The navy one. So there I was, trying to decide if I should go home and get her cardigan or buy one from the hospital shop. I was going to just buy one — it would be worth it of course, but then I wondered if she’d prefer the familiar laundry smell of her own rather than a brand new one, and whether she’d then always have to associate whatever new navy cardigan I bought her with having a car accident, so perhaps I should go home after all and get the one she wanted… (I feel I should mention that my Mum is fine; this was definitely just shower talk.)
And this was all when I was solidly awake and lucid. I have been known to arise in the morning quite exhausted from spending an entire night actively saving the world from apocalyptic disaster (I can say from experience that am incredibly resourceful, in my base-est self; I can wield weapons I’ve never even seen before; I can outwit monsters and generally speak to animals; usually lions, who seem frightening but are always on my side, and am on familiar terms with people I’ve never met, and see situations from within and from above, even as I jump over rocks which raise up from rushing rivers with dark banks on either side…).
Anyway… ideas are strange things that occur either via triggers, collisions or sometimes they come completely complete in themselves, arriving as though on a plate, saying hello as they stare at you in the face like a grinning stranger ecstatic to work with you. Yesterday evening, triggered by absolutely nothing, I had a sudden sense of a man who was obsessed with categorising everything in the world in alphabetical order, and how he’d only got a fraction of the way through the A’s, and become hugely distracted by some huge, life-changing happening that sees him (a man in a quiet room, curled up and insular) unfurl himself into something very outward-looking and hopeful… I would be able to get to the bottom of this happening through some very fast typing (I think it’s a short story), and maybe I will.
I remember once talking to my sister-in-law about a part in Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, in which the writer recalls an aquaintance who has an involved, imaginary conversation with a colleague about a trip to Paris (a trip which did not exist and which was not on the cards). To the woman’s enormous irritation, he had done several minor things slightly wrong (he’d messed up some of the plans, or presumed something about the day they should leave, or said something a bit ‘off’; I can’t remember exactly and there were a whole string of offences he committed with all manner of implications; the story goes on for several paragraphs in this woman’s mind), to the extent that when she arrived at work the next day, she was quite furious with him. He, of course, had absolutely no idea that they had been arranging a trip to Paris and that he’d been utterly disappointing. It took her quite a while to let him off the hook.
I expect/hope I’m not the only one who can relate to this; if I’ve met you, we’ve probably had several conversations, in varying contexts and with all sorts of outcomes, which you will have absolutely no idea about, and even sometimes mid-company, I have been known to live for several seconds in a world of my own making (by several minutes I mean several years, potentially). No wonder some of us have to write; we have to let some of it out.